Helping your child adjust to being a student after the summer, with all of the responsibilities and expectations that entails, can often be daunting. Nevertheless, there are many things parents can do to ensure kids feel prepared. As a clinical psychologist working with children, I recommend a number of key tips for helping your child succeed in school this year:
1. Establish consistent daily routines.
One of the best ways to encourage school readiness is to begin by creating consistent schedules and routines at home. If you want to help your child be calm and organized, it's best to teach him ways to structure his time. For instance, start by having concrete times and designated work areas for homework completion. Decide early on if you believe children should have a break for fun and snacks after school and then begin homework or if they should complete homework immediately after school and then have their free time after.
Once you set up this routine, encourage your child to stick to it by using a daily report card or behavioral charting system that allows him to earn points for starting homework on time. He might be able to earn a special privilege (such as playing a special game with parents or choosing what to eat for dessert) for sticking to the routine.
Bedtime should also occur at a designated time and include routines that help the child to wind down (i.e., bath, book, bed). In the morning, make sure you give yourself and your child enough time to get ready by establishing a time to wake up that will allow him to feel rested and give him sufficient time to get dressed, have breakfast, and get ready without feeling rushed. Children who have an easy morning routine that includes breakfast will have better school days.
2. Encourage them to self-regulate in the classroom.
Depending on your child's age, personality, and behavioral characteristics, she may find it easy or difficult to stay focused, on task, and calm in the classroom.
It's important that parents remember what types of behaviors are developmentally appropriate and avoid putting too much pressure on their child. For younger children, bite-size messages before school about kindness toward others, following the teacher's directions, and asking an adult for help if they need it are important. For older children, you might encourage taking notes to remember important facts or as a strategy to stay focused and on task. Encourage them to request a short break to go to the bathroom or to get water if they are feeling fidgety or restless.
Again, encourage planning similar to the routines you maintain at home. Remind them to use planners to write homework assignments. Be proactive by sending teachers notes occasionally to check in on progress and find out how you can be of assistance to your child or the classroom.
3. Empower them to advocate for themselves.
There are many instances when children could benefit from additional assistance in the classroom but may not know how to ask for help. Talk with your child about things she does well and things she struggles with. Share with her that you also have things that are easy and difficult for you. Let her know it's OK to not be perfect, and if she needs help, it's OK to ask.
Role-play asking a teacher for help with an assignment or help your child identify cues that might let her know when she needs to request help. The primary goal is to decrease shame related to imperfections and empower children to seek support when they need it.
4. Schedule special time after school.
Be sure to block out some special time in the evenings with your child to discuss the day and prepare for things that might happen the following day. With as little as five minutes a day of open-ended questions and discussion, you can learn lots about issues your child may be struggling with or who his best friends are. These conversations are important for raising a healthy, competent child.